MOREHEAD CITY — County native Tyler Pake reached a personal milestone on Dec. 17, winning his first marathon at the Jacob Wells 3 Bridges Marathon in Little Rock, Ark.
The 33-year-old Beaufort-born runner, now living in Cary, clocked a 2:58.15 for his first 26.2-mile victory and his second sub-three hour marathon time, despite not having run one in nearly three years.
“So happy to have accomplished this,” Pake said. “I’ve been training for 18 months, basically since the beginning of August, and this was my second time under three hours. I was hoping to get a better time, but the conditions were rough. It was hot and muggy, and a big difference from the cool temperatures from the day before and the day after.”
The 294 participants in the marathon were indeed treated to an isolated day of warm temperatures with a high of 75 on race day when the high the day before was 58 before dipping below freezing at 30 degrees the day after.
Fortunately, Pake was treated to a scenic course, one that according to the race website sits almost entirely on the Arkansas River Trail. Consisting of first a 19-mile look and then a 7-mile loop, the course crosses the Big Dam Bridges at miles 1 and 18, the Clinton Presidential Bridge at mile 9 and the Two Rivers Bridge at miles 19 and 26.
“It was a really pretty course,” Pake said. “People were out and about walking their dogs and going about their days. There was no traffic on the bridges. Everything was just easy-going.”
At the end of the race, Pake wasn’t emotional or immediately elated. His time to ponder the first-time win would come later after he took the first several post-race minutes recovering physically.
“When I first crossed the finish line, I didn’t yell or raise my arms or anything like that,” Pake recalled. “I was so bogged down by the conditions, I was trying to catch my breath again.”
Pake had more than 10 full minutes to fill his lungs and grab some water before the next runner – Tia Stone of Searcy, Ark. – crossed the finish line. Stone, 38, clocked a 3:08.35 to finish second, followed by Erika Setzler (3:13.23) of Conway, Ark., in third.
Pake was surprised at the gap between himself and the rest of the field. A regular top finisher in county races, Pake has seen his share of leads, but the one on Saturday was particularly large.
“I didn’t even know the lead was that big until later,” Pake said. “I was surprised when I saw the results. I knew I had some space behind me but I didn’t know it was that much.”
Pake has won a major county race in each of the last three years. This year, he placed first alongside his friend Katherine Price in the Twin Bridges 8K with a time of 30:46. In 2015, he clocked a 1:21.47 to win the Crystal Coast Half Marathon, and in 2014, he clocked the top time, 38:15, in the Historic Beaufort Road Race 10K. In April 2014, Pake ran the renowned Boston Marathon, clocking a 2:49.52 to place 951st overall and 733rd in his division.
Pake, who has also run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, has actually run all but one of his eight marathons out of state. The only North Carolina marathon he has participated in was the Tobacco Road Marathon in 2009. He found out about the event in Arkansas thanks to a friend.
“My buddy Jarrod Quinlivan, who lives in Clayton, is trying to run a marathon in every state, and he wanted to do this one,” Pake said. “It’s kind of in between where we each live, so I thought it’d be a good one for us to run together.”
Days before the event, however, Quinlivan had to bow out due to a training injury, and Pake was left to run the race without his friend.
“That was kind of a bummer,” Pake said. “It can be a long lonely race, a marathon without a running buddy.”
The solo run turned out to yield a good result, an excellent reward for the 18 weeks Pake trained to run in the event. Pake got help with his training from another friend – Phillip Latter, the designer of Pake’s training plan and a cross country coach at Brevard High School whose girls team has won back-to-back 2A state championships.
Pake’s training did not, however, prepare him to run in the conditions that greeted him on race day.
“I started at the end of the summer,” Pake said, “and my first long run was after the weather cooled to the 50s, so this was my first really long run in the heat in a while.”
Despite the physical toll the race took on him, Pake isn’t swearing off running another marathon. He doesn’t have one planned for 2017, but he’s hoping to do something special in 2018.
“I would actually love to get a group of Carteret County runners to all go and run (the) Boston (Marathon),” Pake said. “A lot of us have really similar times. We might even be able to run the whole thing together.”